The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Charges fly at Senate debate
BY CHELYEN DAVIS
HOT SPRINGS—Accusations of partisanship and poor governing records marked the first general election debate between Virginia’s U.S. Senate candidates Tim Kaine and George Allen.
Allen and Kaine, who have debated once before in this race, faced off before the Virginia Bar Association at The Homestead.
By the time it was over, Allen had criticized Kaine for his ties to President Barack Obama, support for unions, decision while governor to close rest stops, and support for last year’s bipartisan congressional deal on the debt ceiling that now means looming defense cuts that could cost Virginia jobs.
Kaine accused Allen of a record of “smashmouth politics,” a poor fiscal record in his previous term as senator, and support for divisive social-issue legislation.
Kaine painted himself as a bipartisan, cooperative leader whose experience leading Virginia during a down economy would help him advocate for a mix of revenue increases and spending cuts to shrink the federal debt.
Allen presented himself as a defender of business owners and workers who would fight in the Senate for tax cuts and against policies—such as EPA regulations and the federal health care law—that could hurt economic growth.
The debate, moderated by CNN anchor Candy Crowley, opened with the candidates acknowledging the Friday shootings in a Colorado movie theater.
Kaine said it brought back memories of the shootings at Virginia Tech—which happened while he was governor. Allen praised Kaine’s handling of the event at Tech.
The Colorado mass shooting also prompted Crowley’s first question, about whether the candidates think gun laws are adequate.
Kaine said he still believes in nationwide background checks that include guns purchased from private vendors at gun shows.
Allen said he supports background checks, but doesn’t extend that to private sales.
Allen blasted Kaine for supporting last year’s deal in Congress over the debt ceiling, which included billions in mandatory cuts—including defense cuts—over the next 10 years if federal lawmakers don’t agree on how to make cuts themselves.
That deal, also called “sequestration,” is getting renewed attention in Washington because the cuts would start in January—and no deal for alternative cuts appears forthcoming in Congress.
Kaine supported the sequestration deal—along with, as he pointed out Saturday, many Republicans—while Allen opposed it, saying that the defense spending cuts in the deal would be “devastating” for Virginia.
“The deal had no spending caps, there was no balanced budget amendment, no line item veto authority, nothing,” Allen said, adding that he never would support legislation that makes such harsh cuts to national defense.
He called it a “failed deal” and repeatedly tied it to Kaine.
Kaine said he believes the sequestration deal was “the right thing to do,” because it helped stave off threatened downgrades from the bond rating agencies.
Had Allen had his way, Kaine said, the nation could have defaulted on debts and seen a credit downgrade.
Several times, Kaine accused Allen of helping create the federal government’s current debt, by voting for Medicaid expansions, wars and congressional pay raises without a way to pay for them.
“You planted time bombs in the budget,” Kaine said to Allen. “They continue to be a wrecking ball You talk like a fiscal conservative but you’ve never governed like one.”
Allen countered by describing Kaine as a tax-raiser, painting Kaine’s gubernatorial administration as one of high unemployment and attempts to raise taxes.
He took issue with Kaine’s claim that Virginia was a well-managed state in Kaine’s administration.
“I don’t see what’s great management when you’re shutting down rest areas in Virginia when there’s a billion dollars sitting in the VDOT account being unused,” Allen said, referring to Kaine’s decision as an outgoing governor to close numerous highway rest areas, and the subsequent finding by a VDOT audit that the agency had about $1 billion in unspent funds on its books. Gov. Bob McDonnell reopened the rest stops.
Kaine’s campaign sent out an email during the debate, saying the $1 billion hadn’t been spent because VDOT managers under Kaine were conservative fiscal managers.
The candidates were allowed to question each other twice during the debate.
Kaine asked Allen about support for “personhood” legislation—which says life begins at conception—and other social-issue concerns.
“You have a track record of pushing divisive social legislation,” Kaine said. “You pursue these agendas that hurt women and the economy.”
The personhood question came up in December, the last time Allen and Kaine faced off.
This time, Allen clarified that he “would never want to ban contraceptives,” but believes the personhood bill would let law enforcement pursue someone for attacking a pregnant woman and hurting her fetus.
Allen said Kaine was asking about issues Allen hasn’t campaigned on.
“We’ve heard this rhetoric before from you, Tim,” Allen said. “I’m not running on those issues, I’m running on jobs.”
Allen used one of his questions to Kaine to ask if he regrets taking, in his last year as governor, the partisan position of chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
“You were giving political speeches all over the country this is the most partisan job in the country,” Allen said. “Half the days in June and October , you were not even in Virginia the people of Virginia, they needed a full-time governor but Tim thought it was more important to serve as chairman of the Democratic National Committee.”
Kaine said several Republicans have held partisan positions while in office. Allen himself was chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee during his previous Senate term, and former Gov. Jim Gilmore was head of the Republican National Committee while governor.
Partisanship was a recurrent theme from both candidates.
Kaine repeatedly accused Allen of “smashmouth politics,” noting that Allen has ads that claim Kaine would be “Obama’s senator,” not Virginia’s.
Kaine said he’d be a “partner” with the candidate who becomes president, not an obstructionist.
He took exception to Allen’s claim that Kaine is Obama’s “handpicked” senatorial candidate, calling it “completely out of line.”
Allen said there’s nothing wrong with drawing contrast between the two candidates’ records. He noted Kaine’s support for Obama policies with which Allen disagrees.
While a number of other groups have invited Allen and Kaine to hold additional debates, the two campaigns have not yet announced others.
Chelyen Davis: 540/368-5028